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Penn State Football: Why Nittany Lions Are the Key to the Big Ten Title Race

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Penn State Football: Why Nittany Lions Are the Key to the Big Ten Title Race

If Penn State was bowl eligible this season, it would sit just one game back of Ohio State (also ineligible) for a spot in the Big Ten championship game. However, the Nittany Lions are not going to win the Big Ten title this year—and for good reason.

The university has some serious soul searching to do in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal. Despite the immense pressure and negativity that followed Penn State into its 2012 campaign, the Nittany Lions have played to a respectable 6-3 record. Furthermore, they still have an opportunity to have a major impact on this season's BCS Bowl picture.

With Nebraska, Indiana and Wisconsin as the three final games remaining on the Nittany Lions' 2012 schedule, Penn State will play a deciding factor in who gets to compete for a Rose Bowl berth this December at Lucas Oil Stadium. Each of those three teams are either in line to win their respective division or are within a game of doing so.

Let's take a look each of these games and determine how the Nittany Lions can continue to wreak havoc on the rest of the Big Ten.

 

11/10: Penn State vs. Nebraska

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez.

Something has to give in this one. Nebraska boasts the Big Ten's highest-scoring offense, but Penn State has only given up an average of 18.1 points per game this season. Furthermore, the Nittany Lions are 3-1 on the road so far through 2012.

Taylor Martinez and the dynamic Nebraska offense will undoubtedly put some points on the board, but this game is not going to be a cakewalk for the Cornhuskers. The Nittany Lions have put up at least 34 points in their last five games and have done so with a potent passing attack. 

Nebraska will be favored to win at home, but this could be a statement game for a Penn State team with a lot to prove to the entire nation.

 

11/17: Indiana vs. Penn State

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Indiana quarterback Cameron Coffman.

Indiana is just one game behind Wisconsin for a chance to play in the Big Ten championship game, but it's not because it has been a stellar football team this season. Although the Hoosiers are vastly improved from their embarrassing 1-11 record a year ago, they are still a middle-of-the-pack team.

Although the Hoosiers are scoring an average of 34 points per game, their defense has given up nearly 440 yards of offense per game this season. Granted, the Hoosiers have played better on the defensive side of the ball in recent weeks. However, they are not going to be able to engage Penn State in a shootout.

The Nittany Lions are solid defensively and will challenge the Hoosiers to stop them through the air. In short, the Hoosiers will have to beat a better football team on the road to keep their Rose Bowl hopes alive.

 

11/24: Wisconsin vs. Penn State

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Wisconsin and Penn State has identical 6-3 records this season. However, the Badgers have lost their three contests by a combined nine points. Wisconsin has been in every game it has played this season. There is no reason why it should not be favored to win on the road in its final regular game of the season.

However, this contest will have a special meaning for Penn State. Not only will this game be Senior Day, but it will also mark the end of the first season of the school's four-year bowl ban. The team will surely want to send the message in front of their home crowd that Penn State football is not going anywhere.

The events that have unfolded over the last 12 months at Penn State should never be forgotten. The school will never be able to truly move on from the horrific actions that took place right under the nose of the administration.

However, this season has allowed the entire campus community to return to a state of normalcy. Wreaking havoc on the Big Ten for the remainder of this season could bring forth some unexpected momentum to carry this team into 2013.

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